US Congress to avert default with stop-gap debt limit hike

Washington (AFP) –


US lawmakers were set Tuesday to rubber-stamp a short-term bill to lift the nation's borrowing authority, averting the threat of a first-ever debt default -- but only for a few weeks.

Congressional leadership does not expect any trouble passing the stop-gap $480 billion hike, which advanced from the Senate last Thursday after weeks of heated debate.

"We'll be working to try to have bipartisanship, as we always have had on that legislation," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters.

The 81-year-old leader reeled off a White House list of the havoc that a default would wreak, including six million lost jobs, $15 trillion in household wealth wiped out and increased costs for car loans, mortgages, student loans, credit cards and other borrowing.

"A default would send shockwaves through global financial markets, and would likely cause credit markets worldwide to freeze up and stock markets to plunge. Employers around the world would likely have to begin laying off workers," she warned.

Republicans have refused to offer any of their own votes to avert the crisis, and even blocked Democrats who control Congress from lifting the limit on their own.

But the party dropped its blockade in the Senate last week, ending for now an impasse that risked leaving the federal government incapable of securing and servicing loans after October 18.

The new arrangement would merely kick the can down the road, possibly to coincide with another major funding deadline -- a shutdown that would begin from December 3 when the government's coffers theoretically run out.

- 'Full faith and credit' -

The borrowing cap may yet turn out to be less pressing, however.

Economists estimate that the nation will reach the new, revised debt limit sometime in mid-December or early January -- slightly later than the December 3 date that Congress originally projected.

The United States spends more money than it collects through taxation so it borrows money via the issuing of government bonds, seen as among the world's most reliable investments.

Around 80 years ago lawmakers introduced a limit on how much federal debt could be accrued.

The ceiling has been lifted dozens of times to allow the government to meet its spending commitments -- usually without drama and with the support of both parties -- and stands at around $28 trillion.

But Republicans in both chambers of Congress have this time objected in protest of Biden's taxing and spending plans.

In reality, raising the debt ceiling doesn't authorize new spending -- it merely pays for expenses that both Republican and Democratic administrations have already authorized.

"It's about the kitchen table, it's about our economy, the global economy," Pelosi said.

"But it's also about our constitution, which says the full faith and credit of the United States shall not be in doubt."